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Things that we ought not to have done

Looking for errors in daily newspapers is like fishing with dynamite; it’s just too easy to be morally sound.

But all the same, lapses great and small thrust themselves upon us as we read. CO2 levels force / evacuation of inn, a headline proclaims, but the article explains that a Holiday Inn was shut down after people were exposed to carbon monoxide, which is CO. And CO would not have worked as a headline word, because it would not be immediately clear that a chemical compound is indicated.

A little reminder that using scientific notation as headline shorthand is an easy way to go astray.

“Older and wiser, my loyalties have changed,” a sentence in another article informs us. It’s probably good that one’s loyalties get wiser as they grow older, but it’s probably even better to say that as I have grown older and wise, my loyalties have changed.

Those introductory adjectival phrases that grammatically refer to the subject of the sentence bear watching.

“The United States has long alleged that Iranians have been funneling money, weapons and training for armed groups in Iran.” Those sly dogs, funding themselves. Closer attention to the context of this article from the Los Angeles Times would have made it clear to the editor and copy editor that Iraq is the word that sentence is looking for.

The wrong word correctly spelled, the perennial bugaboo of copy editors.

A reporter at a Russian restaurant decides to sample the vodkas and begins with the cheaper ones — not that I would have advised that, but I wasn’t consulted. (I was once given a bottle of imported flavored vodka but was never able to determine whether it had been drained from a Jeep or a corpse.) The reporter chose garlic pepper vodka — again, not that I would have recommended it. He described it as looking like oily pools of water in the gutter, adding, “Taking this shot felt like slurping down one of those. I almost wretched.”

The verb for choking and gagging is to retch.

Fair reporting demands that I own up to being one link in the chain of editors who managed to get a headline into print last week saying that former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio had been sentenced to 30 years in prison. The published correction pointed out that the sentence was for 30 months, as the article had plainly said.

All, all have fallen short. 

Posted by John McIntyre at 12:41 PM | | Comments (1)


I almost wretched.”

Would it have been better -- assuming the author was Albert -- to be the rather poetic "I, Al ... most wretched" ?

That's a fair post-vodka statement, I'd say.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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